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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Jerusalem Post Editorial

"Forward to square one"

Yesterday, Bush said "it seems clear" that the Palestinian refugee issue will have to be addressed "through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there rather than Israel." This is a monumental and positive advance on the Clinton parameters because it negates the principle of an asymmetrical Palestinian claim on Israeli sovereignty. No one suggests that Israelis have a right to live in Palestine. Why should Palestinians have a right to live in Israel?

The "right of return" to Israel not only negates a two-state solution, but Israel's right to exist. It would be nice if, over time, Bush said so, in so many words. But however carefully phrased, the commitment has been made, thereby turning the tide of history back to when a costly gamble was made.

It is clear now that Israel must go through with Sharon's disengagement plan, as painful as it will be to implement. In a way, the plan is another terrible gamble, this time on the word of the United States that it will continue to condition Palestinian statehood on an end to terror and the establishment of a truly free and peaceful Palestinian society.

In this regard, Bush's reiteration of the need for Palestinian democracy and his renewed calls on the Palestinians to change their leadership should not be overlooked. This too was an important result of the summit, not just for Israel, but for Palestinians, the region, and the US.

At yesterday's summit, President Bush once again came through for Israel at a crucial hour. What remains to be seen is whether his State Department will come through on the follow-up.